sport and lifestyle concept - woman doing sports outdoors

We all know that we should workout at least three times a week. Unfortunately, we don’t, no matter how hard researchers try to convince us. Studies show that less than 20% of Americans actually get the recommended amount of exercise. Half of all baby boomers don’t exercise at all. Ever. 

The struggle is real. Exercising is boring, time consuming, painful and we can’t see any immediate results from today’s effort. Maybe you will look a little better next week? Maybe you reduced your chance of getting some disease in the distant future? You can’t really tell, but you just know that you should go jump on the treadmill sometime today, but not right now. You’ll do it later.

The government recommends at least 150 minutes per week of heart-rate increasing physical activity each week to get health results. Researchers have been looking to find ways to bring that number down without reducing the effectiveness and many believe they have found the answer.

High intensity interval training.

Instead of jogging at a moderate intensity (55% of your max heart rate) for 30 – 60 minutes at a time, exercisers can do a few quick bouts of high intensity exercise at 80 – 90% of their max heart rate. The findings consistently show that the results are the same for markers of health and fitness improvement.

In fact, a recent study had the participants do ONE MINUTE of high intensity exercise, three times a week (20 seconds of all out effort with a two minute rest, repeated three times) with a two minute warm up and a three minute cooldown for a total of ten minutes of exercise time. The other group slogged through 45 minutes of medium intensity jogging.

So ten minutes (with only one minute of real effort) vs. 45 minutes per workout, three times a week for 12 weeks.


Each group improved the exact same amount.

Way less time, but same results. Who wouldn’t want that? This removes a huge barrier to exercise adherence for people and improves public and personal health and fitness (with all the awesome life-changing benefits that fitness brings)!

MICT = Jogging / SIT = One minute of high intensity cardio / CTL = Control group

So what does this have to do with virtual reality? Unfortunately, studies have shown that even though the higher intensity exercise is way shorter in duration, people enjoy it less. They remember the pain of pushing so hard vs. jogging at a moderate pace and people may be less likely to adhere to a HIIT style program because of this.

The intro to a recent study about this sums it up:

“Exercise Intensity – Affect Relationship

Research examining the affective response during exercise in inactive and overweight adults has identified a negative relationship between exercise intensity and affect, such that as the intensity of the exercise performed increases above the ventilatory threshold, the affective response to the exercise becomes more negative.

Specifically, continuous bouts of vigorous-intensity exercise, such as cycling at ∼80% of VO2max for 30 minutes, provokes greater psychological distress, less enjoyment, and higher feelings of displeasure as compared to moderate-intensity cycling at ∼50% of VO2max.

According to dual-mode theory, affect experienced during exercise is influenced, in part, by the metabolic cost associated with the intensity at which the exercise is performed. This proposed relationship has provided impetus for modification of exercise guidelines, which recommend moderate-intensity activities, such as walking for 30 minutes 5 days per week, over vigorous-intensity activities (e.g., running for 20 minutes 3 days per week) for inactive individuals.

In conflict with this recommendation is the research revealing that the most commonly cited barrier to exercise is lack of time. Indeed, regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, or health status, people report that a lack of time is the primary reason for their failure to exercise on a regular basis. Clearly, there is a need for innovative exercise strategies that promote health benefits with minimal time commitment required, and that are not perceived as aversive.”

Let me repeat that last sentence:

Clearly, there is a need for innovative exercise strategies that promote health benefits with minimal time commitment required, and that are not perceived as aversive.

That’s the holy grail for exercise scientists and the fitness industry.

  • Physicists search for their unified theory of the cosmos.
  • Neuroscientists try to figure out how the heck consciousness comes from physical matter.
  • Jaden Smith is working diligently to figure out if mirrors are real.

The fitness industry is searching for ways to get sedentary people to consistently participate in and enjoy exercise.

That’s where VR comes in.

Immersing yourself into another world where your body is the controller in an exciting, flow-inducing, fun experience that takes your mind away from the pain and effort and instead distracts you on the game and environment.

It turns out that when people are focused on something other than pain, they forget about it. Pain and effort perception goes down. In an extreme example, if you are laying in bed with a toothache, that’s all you will think about. Your tooth hurts. But then you think you hear an intruder breaking through your front door. The pain will disappear from your awareness immediately. After you pull out your ninja skills, crane kick him into submission, and deliver the perp to the police, you will get back into bed and start noticing your toothache again.

VR can create flow experiences in ways that other mediums can’t. We have a duty to use the new power of VR to get people to enjoy short bouts of high-intensity exercise so they can feel better, look better, and live longer.

I want to play VR games that includes cardio and resistance exercise for 30 minutes at a time, three times a week. Give me all the results and make it fun and enjoyable. Make me look forward to going back inside that world. Make it as addictive as Everquest or Farmville.

Once that happens, exercise becomes a habit that nobody will ever want to break.


  1. Great points. I recently found similar studies and they blew my mind. Having been a fitness fanatic my entire life, I realized I had been lied to in terms of cardio:

    Disclaimer: long read but might help shed some more light:
    I just finished reading The Cardio Myth and discovered I’ve been unknowingly following the principles of circuits and high-intensity interval training for most of my gym life, but it’s crazy to see the studies that back it up.
    This principle of HIIT can save you valuable time AND help you burn the stubborn last 10-20 lbs of body fat that never seem to disappear. A snippet from the book:
    “Tremblay was affiliated with a group of scientists in the Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory at Laval University… they were intrigued by a large dataset…revealing that subjects who exercised at a higher intensity were leaner than lower-intensity exercisers despite energy expenditure, or calorie burn, being equal…”
    Translation: the number of calories you burn in the gym might not be telling the entire picture and can be a skewed metric.
    Also, “With data on 1,366 females and 1,257 males, Tremblay and his team had reason to believe that continuous, low- to moderate-intensity exercise might not be the gold standard for weight loss after all…to solve the mystery, they gathered twenty-seven men and women, designed a training program, and divided participants between two exercise conditions.
    Group 1: was the endurance training group that cycled at a continuous pace, starting at 30 mins per sission, and progressing to 45 mins. They logged a total of 80 workouts during a 20-week training period
    Group 2: did short, high-intensity interval exercise. They started with a few weeks of 30 min steady-state cycling for conditioning, but, by week 5, this was phased out and participants were doing short interval workouts of roughly 4 mins (YES 4 MINUTES). The program only lasted 15 weeks vs. the 20 weeks of Group 1.
    The findings: Group 2 lost more fat than those in the cardio group. That was with 20 FEWER WORKOUTS and SHORTER DURATION per workout. Group 2 also improved their muscle metabolism.
    Here’s the kicker… Group 2 had HALF the energy expenditure of Group 1. That is to say, even though it appeared they were burning half the calories, they actually lost more fat, increased muscle metabolism AND saved a TON of time.
    I know studies should be taken with a grain of salt but it’s crazy the think how we may have been lied to for years about how cardio is the solution. In reality, it can leave us injured, accelerate aging, cause muscle to atrophy and disappear, slow your metabolism, create a ravenous appetite that leads to overeating and introduce other negative effects.
    Going to borrow some of this logic for Black Box as we reinvent fitness. 🙂 I recommend anyone reading this article to dive deeper and get the book! It might just save your life!

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